Cynthia Browning, who was state representative for a district that included Arlington, Sunderland, Sandgate and West Rupert before the districts were reconfigured as part of a reapportionment process mandated every 10 years, will now be one of two representatives on the new district if she gets re-elected.
Browning believes that her experience as an
Jeff Wilson, former Manchester Town Manager and current state representative will also be running for re-election. Before the district reconfiguration Wilson was the state representative for Manchester.
As of the moment, both Wilson and Browning are running unopposed.
Browning touched on a few important issues that would be her legislative priorities during the coming session.
"I have three main issues," she said. "One of them is to continue working on the reform of the Vermont State tax code and also state financing. We need to have a tax code that's simple, efficient, transparent, and effective in raising the revenue that we need
Wilson largely seemed to agree with Browning on that point, stating, "I am in favor of the general approach of simplifying, broadening the base, and reducing the rates at the state level and the federal level."
Browning also mentioned electricity costs and health care as looming questions confronting the state.
"I'm still very concerned about the future implications of Green Mountain Power taking over CVPS. The more I learned about the way they set rates and the way they are going to be regulated the more concerned I am that ordinary Vermonters are not going to be treated properly in that process."
The merger between the two biggest power companies in Vermont came in 2011. CVPS had a $21 million debt bailout, given back in 2001, that many thought should have been repaid to the utility's ratepayers in direct cash disbursements, which could have reached as high as $150 per ratepayer. But under a deal struck with the support of the Shumlin administration, the reimbursement will come instead through investments in energy efficiencies made by the new merged utility.
This merger also means that Green Mountain Power now has a 78 percent stake in the Vermont Electric Power Corporation, or VELCO, which operates many of the state's electrical transmission lines. The parent company of Green Mountain Power, Gaz Metro, is owned by the Province of Quebec and the oil pipeline company Enbridge. Browning, worried about issues that might arise from such a situation, has applied to hold a public seat on VELCO.
"I think that shows you how serious I am in trying to get a handle on what's going on in that area," Browning said, "everything about our future is going to be about our electricity. Our whole economic activity is based on electricity, and so we need to understand how that system works and make sure that it's working to our benefit and not to benefit of giant multinational corporations."
Browning and Wilson then turned to health reform, and the possible "single payer" health insurance plan that, if enacted, would alter the landscape of health care and insurance throughout the state.
"I want everybody to be able to have health care and health insurance but whatever system we put into place it has to be financially sustainable," Browning said. "It has to be realistic and I see so much politics, ideology, and wishful thinking in the discussion of this topic and I am very concerned."
John O'Keefe, the current Manchester town manager, noted one other aspect of the healthcare debate he hoped lawmakers would consider going forward.
"I think if your going to do state-wide, single-payer healthcare you need to remove healthcare as a bargaining chip in collective bargaining," he said. "You shouldn't present a system that provides healthcare for everyone and then unions can bargain a greater package. That would be a very bad thing for towns in Vermont."
The last issue, and the issue that might effect us sooner than the rest, regards property taxes. Wilson was able to put in perspective how important this issue is to the community.
"Property taxes are going to be a big issue next year and I'm not sure what the reform effort is because nobody has been able to come up with one that makes sense," Wilson said. "We are seeing a tax base on the property tax side of the equation that's being reduced, expenses on the school side of the equation are going up, and next year we are looking at a sizable state-wide property tax increase."
As the discussion came to an end Browning reiterated how important communication will be in solving these problems in the future.
"One thing I have learned in finishing my sixth year [as a state representative] is that nobody does anything by themselves and we have to form alliances...so it's really a question of working together," said Browning. "I am not pessimistic at all, I am just very realistic at how difficult some of the things before us are, but that's no excuse for not trying. The first thing we have to do is to be honest about the situation and honesty is not always present in the discussion."